The Road to VSL: Lit-Leo & the Ban/Restricted Update

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a chance to catch your breath from the recent ban and restricted announcement made on April 24th. Previously, I spoke about how I felt that Gush and Gitaxian Probe both deserved to be restricted in Vintage. And here we are! Living in a world where the correct decision was made. This article will not be going into the reasons for the restrictions because you can already read Wizard’s statement as well as my last discussion on the matter. Let’s dive right into what to do now.

Gitaxian ProbeGush

Let’s start by taking a look at a list by Hank Zhong who got second place at Eternal Extravaganza last month.

Pretty stock Sylvan Mentor deck here. Most mentor players are playing either 2 or 3 Gitaxian Probes depending on personal preference. I lean towards playing 2 because I dislike how it works with Sylvan Library. Having the information is nice but both cards tax the same resource; your life total. I have been satisfied just playing the 2 copies so far, thus the restriction does not hurt too bad. All we have to do is remove one of these Gitaxian Probes and I would replace it with the 4th main-deck Swords to Plowshares. At least in the coming weeks, we will see an increase in the number of creatures. Between Young Pyromancers in blue decks and the copious creatures in the Eldrazi and Shops decks, there will be more targets than ever. Plus, I’m a sucker for playing lots of Swords to Plowshares.

Now we get to the big girl Gush. Gush is one of a kind so it has no immediate replacements. While some decks started moving towards 3 copies, most played 4, and rightfully so. It had amazing synergy with Dack Fayden, Library of Alexandra, and both Jaces. On top of that, Gush allowed you to cheat on mana sources as it can reliably turn into a land drop after floating the soon-to-be bounced land. Sylvan Mentor is particularly mana hungry and is eager to drop Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the high end. I even find myself hard casting Force of Will more often than many other decks. Before I theorize about how to replace Gush, I need to predict how the metagame might react to the restriction.

There will be a surge of Shops decks, at least right out the gates. Many players will overreact and perceive the restriction as a crippling blow to their blue Gush or Probe decks. Several Vintage aficionados do believe that this restriction will actually help Mentor decks more than hurt. Probe and Gush were arguably bad cards against Shops, pulling most of their weight in Blue mirror matches. So what happens now? How do the Mentor decks configure themselves against Shops and White Eldrazi decks? In Europe, for the Vintage Championships early this month, Shops and Colorless Eldrazi decks displayed their dominance before any bannings. Clearly they were a force to be reckoned before and more so now than ever. Blue will still be dominant, but Mentor should adjust for its Thorn of Amethyst match-up primarily. Now let’s talk about how to do that.

First, I would like to include another mana source to the deck. Going to 22 mana sources plus Black Lotus gives us a slight increase in land consistency. Without Gush, we need extra land. It’s as simple as that. Additionally, more mana sources are favorable against Shops and Eldrazi due to their high number of Wastelands and taxing effects. Sol Ring had fallen out of favor recently as it is susceptible to Mental Misstep and the colorless mana is often not terribly useful. Without Gush, the reintroduction of Sol Ring may also be upon us. I also advocate playing the 5th off-color Mox as well.

Now that we have extra mana in the deck we need to find an additional outlet for when we draw too much. Let’s add another mana sink in there. A second Jace the Mind Sculptor fits the bill perfectly here. I believe a decklist like the one below would be a great starting point for Mentor going forward.

I will wait on the optimal sideboard for when the metagame has sorted itself out. Some number of Sudden Shocks may be appropriate as well as some combination of Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, and Ingot Chewer.

Moving forward, there will be plenty of new decks besides Mentor variants. Let’s take a look at our little Sultai friend. Leovold, Emissary of Trest is quite the powerhouse from Conspiracy 2. When he wasn’t doing overpowered things and getting himself banned in Commander, Leovold was doing quite the job at hosing Gush and Gitaxian Probe from Mentor decks. Now is still as good a time as any to employ Mr. Handshake, as he also evokes quite the hand gesture from your opponent.

Leovold, Emissary of Trest

Leovold had a breakout performance in this season of Vintage Super League. He proved quite potent against Mentor decks and players certainly found stretching their mana base to include him worth the reward. Here is a spicy little Vintage deck I designed to take advantage of him post-restriction.

I think this Leovold Bug deck is well-positioned for the upcoming metagame and will be testing it out plenty on Magic Online. This deck has access to main-deck Null Rods, which help against Paradoxical Outcome decks as well as Car Shops and Ballista Shops. I wanted to take advantage of a small tutor package utilizing both Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor. There are the classics to grab such as Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Time Walk but there are plenty of other spicy one-of targets to grab. Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Abrupt Decay, Null Rod, and a slew of sideboard bullets really push the power of these tutors.

Leovold does a great job of naturally checking many opposing Blue spells in Vintage. Just because we have seen the end of a Gush dynasty doesn’t mean people have stopped playing draw spells. Many decks will double down on different card draw spells to make up for its absence. We will always see the likes of Preordain, both Jaces, Dack Fayden, Paradoxical Outcome, Mystic Remora, Sylvan Library, and Standstill. And let’s not forget those cheeky one-ofs like Treasure Cruise, Ponder, Brainstorm, Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Windfall, and of course, now Gush and Gitaxian Probe. Leovold turning off these cards while providing a 3-power clock really turns up the heat on the opponent.

Additionally, Leovold’s bulk allows it to brawl well against many opposing creatures such as Snapcaster Mage, Dark Confidant, Mishra’s Factory, Young Pyromancer, Phyrexian Revoker, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Eldrazi Displacer. You will always get value from his “Target me or my boss, draw trigger” and there are a surprising number of times the ability will come up and you will draw from it. Everything from Dack Fayden stealing your artifact, Walking Ballista’s ability, Eldrazi Displacer, Karakas, and Jace’s Fateseal allow you to draw cards. That’s that value I DO like.

That concludes my discussion on the banned and restricted announcement and how I myself will be moving forward into these new waters. I am eagerly awaiting the results of both Magic Online and paper events in the coming months since we haven’t had such a large shakeup since Lodestone Golem’s restriction. I am always happy to discuss Vintage so feel free to message me or check out my social media pages. Thanks so much for reading!


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